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Dr. Saundarya Rajesh

Dr. Saundarya Rajesh, Founder-President, AVTAR Group

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Fixing the Leaky Pipe – Women in Leadership

Policies and practices are, still, just one part of the game in developing a reliable, strong and efficient Pipeline of Women leaders.

Photo Credit : istockphoto.com,

“Women in Corporate Leadership” is a paradox of sorts for many years now. While women make up to a healthy 46% of all undergraduates, the numbers dwindle to 15% at the mid-management level, 5% at the Senior management level and a dismal 1% of women at Board levels. With the number of women taking a career break for marriage, maternity or mobility not showing any signs of receding, the symbolic leaking pipe doesn’t seem like it could be mended. And this leak is resulting in fewer women at every further level in an organization.

Gender Diversity is not just a fancy term today. It has turned into a Business Imperative, and companies understand that. So, what are the innovative ways in which Companies can create a leadership pipeline that ensures that the leak at the middle of the pipe is re-routed and brought back into the mainstream? Let’s take a look at some of the solutions:

1. Creating a strong phase back Program for women coming back from their maternity-
With the new mandate for 26-weeks of maternity, the need for a strong phase back program has become a hygiene need. A good relationship between an employee and her line manager is essential for the successful reintegration of the employee following maternity leave. How the organisation supports them through the process can help them remain engaged, and research has shown that the line manager relationship is the most significant factor in retaining maternity returners.

Organizations and most importantly managers need to help women employees make a smooth transition into working parenthood. Managers need to plan effectively so that it builds commitment and motivation on both sides. Together, the manager and the employee should be working towards a clearly defined and openly communicative working relationship in the days and months during pregnancy and motherhood. Retaining employees after maternity leave will enable organizations to maximise the returns on investment it has made on the employees by way of recruitment, training and development. Mindtree has an engagement model that provides for a buddy before women employees go on leave; it helps identify the right role for them to re-join. And they have designated HR managers who stay in touch with women going on maternity leave to ensure constant connection and smooth return. In fact, 52% of the 100 Best Companies for Women in India have a phase back program.

2. Second Career Programs – The impact of the leaking pipeline can be effectively negated by bringing women on break back into the workforce. AVTAR Group, the pioneers who introduced the concept of Second Career for Women in the country, have been working intensely in evangelising this concept which is now the buzzword for creating gender parity. The first recorded second career program in the Country was for SCOPE Intl in July 2006. Gender focused recruitment drives and second career hiring targeting women on career breaks play an instrumental role in bringing the Women back into the workforce. Companies like Cummins who have adopted a ‘Hire to Develop’ philosophy, also have customized interventions that facilitate the development of women employees for leadership positions and in key succession opportunities. Companies like Paypal, HUL, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Shell, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, People Combine too have strong Second Career Programs.

3. Mentoring and Coaching - Companies, like EY India, develop and strengthen the leadership capabilities of their women employees by fostering mentor-mentee relationships between women professionals and their leaders. There are others like Intel India which has a protégé-sponsorship program for select senior technical women employees that maps each identified employee to a senior leader, outside of their direct management chain. These sponsors act as their advocates and undertake targeted interventions that include influencing their job scope, creating networking opportunities, and ongoing coaching. The ultimate goal of this specialized leadership training is to strengthen and expand the leadership pipeline for women VPs in Intel India.

4. Strong Leadership Programs – It is heartening to note that most of the 100 Best at the 2016 Working Mother and AVTAR Best Companies for Women in India list have a leadership coaching programme. There are companies that have both formal and informal intervention programmes that are customised to suit the individual woman employee. Programs are designed for growing women talent for lateral and vertical growth, for both Technical and Non-Technical development. Some of these include Cummins India’s Growing Women Leaders (GWL) Program, EY India’s Women’s Access Program, IBM India’s Tanmatra, Intel India’s Accelerated Women’s Leadership Program (AWLP) and Mindtree’s Exuberance program.

5. Skill Development and Education – Further to internal programs, companies also have increasingly started to invest in external tie-ups with Universities and top B-schools in the Country for advanced courses for their women employees. These not only ensure updated knowledge but also development of specific skills that will enable these women to move up the ladder. There are also companies that provide options to work across different domains within the organization, across locations, which give women the exposure that is very crucial for a leader.

6. Family care support – One of the key enablers of Women’s Career advancement are robust family care support policies from organizations. Policies such as Fully paid Paternity leave, Health Insurance, Child care services etc. Amongst the 100 Best Companies for Women in India, 98% of the companies have Family Insurance policies, 95% have Personal Insurance policies, 86% have fully paid paternity leave, 67% have Unpaid Job guarantee and 26% have day care services.

Policies and practices are, still, just one part of the game in developing a reliable, strong and efficient Pipeline of Women leaders. A very significant, internal quality that needs to be developed in every Woman who steps into the workplace is Intentionality. A woman who is intentional of her career will be capable of creating her own career path that will see her through the life phases and bounce back to her career path with intensity strong enough to make her a leader.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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